Personalized Mentoring is the Best Teacher Succession Plan

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Today we caught up with Heather Lageman, Executive Director of Leadership Development at Baltimore County Public Schools on mentoring and our multi-generational teaching workforce… We were so taken by her thought process and observations, we wanted to share them with you!

Twomentor: How is technology impacting the Mentoring of millennial teachers? What are you seeing?

Heather: It is difficult to make sweeping generalizations about any generation (for example, I just heard the other day that a study showed that Gen Xers are more addicted to social media and are on Instagram and Twitter more than Millennials). However, it is very clear in what I am seeing that social media and technology need to be a complement to the mentoring experience, rather than the substance. Colleagues who teach online have bemoaned the lack of engagement and connection, and veteran teachers speak nostalgically about the time when a faculty was truly a family. I believe we need to be very intentional about how to use technology to provide a way to sustain face-to-face connection over time, and enhance long-distance and just-in-time connectivity, while emphasizing the humanity and personal interaction needed to build deep and meaningful relationships of mutual support and learning.

As we focus on building learner-centered environments for our students, we must also create learner-centered coaching experiences for our adults. Choice matters, and learners of all ages engage most deeply in activities that they select to meet their own individualized needs. In this time of creativity and customization, shouldn’t we all be able to create our own personalized learning experiences, especially in the mode of coaching?

In a recent blog I wrote for Learning Forward, I spotlighted the work of a district in New Jersey using Google Hangout to building a professional learning community for busy principals and leaders – but the key is that they also incorporated a balance of face-to-face and individual coaching sessions. It is all about balance, all about choice, and all about the learner.

Twomentor: We talked about Millennials preferring to connect through technology versus connecting face-to-face for Mentoring with others. Heather can you speak more to this? What do Millennials benefit from the most in a Mentoring relationship?

Heather: Just as we can’t fire our way to Finland to increase student achievement, we can’t Google our way to teacher retention, support and effectiveness. Humanity is critical and nothing can replace developing relationships, listening, and sharing experience. Many millennials have been raised in a technology-based relationship model. They have friendships based on people “met” in chat rooms, playing online video games, and on social media. We are faced with the challenge of supporting a workforce with a variety of experiences and needs. Those educators who have not engaged in deep, sustained human connection might not yet know the power of a mentoring relationship. A balanced mentoring relationship can bring them the support and camaraderie that comes with collaborative learning with colleagues of all ages.

The mentoring relationship can be mutually beneficial as both people inspire, learn, and grow together. Warren Berger, the author of A More Beautiful Question, talks about how when the world gets more complicated and complex, we need to question more because we have to be learning and changing. He asserts that we need questioning more than ever, and we are less comfortable with it. The mentoring relationship is the perfect place to build our capacity and grow as questioners….and as listeners.

Balancing the positive elements of a technological connection – the flexibility and just-in-time learning and support intrinsic in Google Hangouts, Voxer, and #edchat, with the personal connection of face-to-face reflection and conversation, make for an accessible and personalized support system designed to meet the needs of the whole person. Then everyone is afforded the powerful opportunity to feel the energy that comes together when people start talking.

Twomentor: Is there tension in education between the generations? What interventions have you found to be effective?

Heather: Once we recognize that we all have value and worth, and we all want to be truly seen and heard, then on a human level it becomes clear that we all have much more in common than we realize. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Maya Angelou is “Do your eyes light up when your child walks into the room?” I believe this applies to everyone we encounter as people and as educators. It gets at the human connection we all crave, regardless of our generational ties.

If the culture created in a school is truly a collaborative culture and all members of the staff and community are valued, then perceived differences are embraced in positive, non-threatening way. If we are all thinking the same way, then no one is innovating, creating and exploring new ideas. It is refreshing to see a shift happening from a more traditional, hierarchical mindset where veterans received ideal schedules, duties, and rooms in the building while new teachers received the challenging schedules, students, and often had to “float” without a classroom of their own, to one where we recognize and build off of the strengths that each person, veteran or new, brings to the table. Much like the military sends highly trained individuals like Navy Seals to handle the most complex and difficult missions, in education we should do the same and incentivize sending our highly effective teachers to help our neediest children learn and grow.

As an active member of Learning Forward (learningforward.org), I am thrilled to see a concerted effort to increase collaboration across the school, especially in the form of designated time for professional learning communities (PLCs), intentional scheduling to allow colleagues to plan together, and tools that allow teachers to build a true sense that we all are needed and bring our own gifts to our work.

Celebrating each of our unique gifts and recognizing the humanity of our colleagues and our students is the most effective way to create a safe place to risk, grow and honor mutual learning. It lays a foundation of trust that is essential for truly rich mentoring. While technology can be a wonderful complement to the relationship building process in this busy world, so much of trust and vulnerability is communicated nonverbally, and so face-to-face interaction is critical to establish the trust, true connection and understanding that enable people to fully engage online.

Twomentor: How can mentoring change an organization?

Heather: I believe that mentoring is the key to transforming lives. In my work with leaders at all levels, our theme has been “We all need a coach.” Both personally and professionally, we all deserve to have an experienced, trusted advisor and confidant. Someone who can support our growth and learning. Someone who can be our cheerleader and our advocate, as well as our honest critic and facilitator of self-reflection.

My life has been changed by every person who has taken the time to coach me through different portions of the journey of my life with kindness and compassion, while helping me be my best self. The mentors in my life have provided me with a safe place to learn to fly or to just free-fall, as one of my favorite bands Florida Georgia Line would say. This is why I believe we must all “lean in” and bring others along the learning journey with us. Personalized mentoring is the best succession plan we can offer.


Heather Lageman
 serves as the Executive Director of Leadership Development for Baltimore County Schools in the Office of Organizational Development. In addition, she is Program Manager of The Council of Educational Administrative and Supervisory Organizations of Maryland (CEASOM) Code.org Regional Partner Program and was facilitator of the Networks and the Internet Writing Team for the K-12 Computer Science Framework. Heather is a member of the National Task Force on Assessment Education and serves on the Board of the Maryland Assessment Group. She is also President of the Learning Forward Maryland Affiliate and Chair-Elect of the Learning Forward Foundation, and Vice-President of Maryland Affiliate of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Julie Kantor is CEO of Twomentor, LLC. Twomentor helps companies build mentoring & sponsorship cultures with a passion for elevating women and millennials in the multi generational workforce.

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